GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — The candidates for governor of Michigan criticized each other’s positions on abortion Thursday, with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer saying women’s “fundamental rights” are at risk and GOP challenger Tudor Dixon calling the Democrat’s support for abortion rights “extremely radical.”
Dixon is a former commentator for a conservative online program who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump. She has never held public office and is still working to introduce herself and her ideas to voters — some of whom she acknowledged they were hearing from her directly for the first time during a debate Thursday night.
For months, Whitmer and fellow Democrats have been airing attack ads portraying the Republican as too extreme on the issue, noting Dixon’s opposition to the procedure even in cases of rape or incest. Those ads have largely gone unanswered as Dixon has struggled to raise money to compete with Whitmer’s multimillion-dollar campaign fund.
On Thursday, Dixon said she is “pro-life with exceptions for the life of the mother” and criticized Whitmer for not supporting limits on abortion.
Whitmer said she will continue fighting for abortion rights. She noted that prior to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning the right to an abortion, she filed a lawsuit to block a dormant 1931 state ban on abortion from taking effect. When the Supreme Court ruled and ended the national right, Whitmer said, Dixon celebrated.
Abortion has been a particularly prominent issue in Michigan this year because voters in November also will decide whether to enshrine the right to the procedure in the state constitution.
Dixon, who has been endorsed by anti-abortion groups including Right to Life of Michigan, said that if elected governor, she will abide by the will of the voters on that ballot question.
“I will always respect the will of the voter,” she said, adding that she believes “in the right of the people to decide.”
Asked whether she will abide by the Nov. 8 vote on the ballot measure, Whitmer noted the court case she filed remains pending before Michigan courts, meaning the vote on the ballot measure may not be the final word.
She also scoffed at Dixon’s statement about respecting the will of voters, saying “this is a candidate who still denies the outcome of the 2020 election.”
Dixon said during the Republican primary that she believed the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, whose loss to Joe Biden in Michigan by some 154,000 votes was confirmed through multiple investigations and lawsuits.
“People in this country are allowed to question elections; it doesn’t mean that you’re not going to accept the will of the people,” Dixon said when asked following the debate about her previous comments on the 2020 election.
The outcome of the November race will be significant beyond Michigan, a presidential election battleground. The winner will be in office for the 2024 contest, and could influence voting laws and how the election is conducted.
Dixon also criticized Whitmer for her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying she was heavy handed in issuing lockdowns that hurt small businesses and the statewide economy and kept kids out of school. Whitmer shot back that Dixon promoted “conspiracy theories.”
“Had she been governor during the pandemic, thousands more people would have died,” Whitmer said.
“And what about our students, who she kept locked out of our schools and wouldn’t listen to parents when they begged her to let them play?” Dixon said. “She wouldn’t even listen.”
The two candidates are scheduled to debate again on Oct. 25 at Oakland University in Rochester.
Joey Cappelletti is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
Burnett reported from Chicago.